SFI Books, a new publishing imprint based in the Eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent, has opened a door of opportunity to writers from the region. It was launched by the independent publisher Strategic Forum Inc (SFI).
Inga Rhonda King, an expert in accounting and financial management, is the founder and managing director of Strategy Forum Inc. Born in Curacao, Netherland Antilles, she grew up in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and has lived and worked in several Caribbean islands, the USA and China. She also has a strong background in pure and applied mathematics and over the past 20 year has worked primarily with medium-sized firms, helping them to expand their business, operate more efficiently and increase profitability.
A few years ago, health concerns caused her to reassess her professional life and change course. “I became less and less interested in designing, analyzing or fixing systems for organizations and more and more interested in changing mindsets or rather, altering the systems in people’s minds and designing methods for unlocking insights. Understanding how we receive information or how we think and why we think the way we do is paramount to the success of any endeavor and the creation of the good life,” Rhonda explained.
Thereafter, in 2006, Strategy Forum Inc was birthed. The organization provides business consultancy services mainly to small business owners, senior executives and persons with individual pursuits, teaching them techniques that stimulate innovative thinking, offer new perspectives and helps them devise creative strategies for the holistic growth of their businesses and projects. SFI was recently entrusted with the preparation of a project proposal on behalf of the National Trust of St Vincent with regards to an environmental and conservation initiative initiated by the Trust for Canouan, Mayreau and Union Island, three islands in the Grenadines.
The launch of SFI Books represents the opening of a new chapter in Rhonda King’s mission to create a space where “independent thinkers, trained and untrained, could gather and learn from each other” – a “village without walls” that allows people anywhere in the world to be part of an enterprise where, together, they can “create an environment to facilitate the re-imagining of their world.”
“Our first aim is to provide a platform for new voices (not-so-new are also welcome) and to celebrate and promote the Caribbean sense of life, even as we try to understand it. We see no better way of doing so than through storytelling,” said Rhonda.
The imprint’s inaugural publication, entitled Caribbean Sense of Life is a photographic narrative compiled by Rhonda King that set out to capture the Caribbean’s rich geographical and cultural diversity and show how the islands’ geography, and history, and the social blending of their people’s and cultures have helped to forge a distinct and unique Caribbean “sense of life” and aesthetic. A copy of the book was presented to US President Barack Obama at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. A copy was also given to Pope Benedict. On both occasions the presentation was made by the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves. Copies of the book were also given to several Caribbean leaders.
Since then other books have followed, including Last Man Standing, featuring a collection of contemporary artwork by celebrated Vincentian artist Robert Joyette. It’s the first in a planned SFI Books series on contemporary Caribbean art spotlighting the works of artists across the region. The aim of the series is to celebrate the Caribbean’s artistic talent and potential and take the region’s art into the home of the average Caribbean person. It is also hoped that the series will provide the artists with added exposure beyond the region.
Beauty is the Messenger: Imagining the Future by Deborah Rodney is a collection of inspirational essays, poetry and shot stories that invite readers to step outside of their limiting thoughts and imagine a new world. Deborah Rodney is, among other things, an actress, social activist and playwright. She was the founder and director of three theatre companies and has written several plays for children on environmental and social issues. The plays have toured hundreds of schools in the USA and St Vincent. She is also a Reiki Master in the tradition of USUI Ryoho. Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing.
A Taste of the Caribbean by photojournalist Kingsley Roberts features a collection of over two dozen photographs depicting various aspects of the daily life of regular folk in the Caribbean. The collection is called ‘Dawn ’til Dusk.’ It portrays scenes that could be seen on any given day from sun-up to sun-down, and simultaneously captures the lives of the young through to the elderly. Although the photographs were taken primarily in Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, they are quintessentially Caribbean, allowing anyone any one familiar with the Caribbean to reconnect with the region.
A former journalist with the Nation newspaper in Barbados, Roberts has won several awards during his career spanning three decades and several islands. He now lives and works in St. Vincent.
Other SFI books include The Nature of Belonging by Vonnie Roudette and one entitled And Who Do You Say You Are? Journey to an Authentic Life by Denise L. Peroune.
The Nature of Belonging is a collection of 52 essays devoted to heightening public awareness of the beauty and healing power of nature and the threats posed by the “widespread destruction of green life” and the impending disorder of climate change. Vonnie Roudette holds an MA from Manchester Metropolitan University. Among other things, she’s a certified farmer and manager/design director of Fibreworks Inc., a craft factory in rural St. Vincent and a creative education consultant.
And Who Do You Say You Are? shows how one institution began the journey to rediscovering itself and its reason for being. Peroune uses the principles that guided the organization in its journey to create a path for individuals to do the same and identify their personal values. She holds a Ph.D. in leadership and education and has more than twelve years experience in higher education marketing
“We are not a vanity press; authors do not pay to have their work published under this label. We do use the best tools and technological advances available to the publishing sector. Each work which carries the SFI label is carefully selected. Our works are message driven and we expect our authors to be actively engaged in promoting their messages and ideas,” SFI Books founder Rhonda King explained.
Aside from their intriguing topics and thought-provoking themes, what makes the SFI titles truly outstanding is their focus on illustrative content, their exquisite design and attractive covers, and the obvious attempt to make the books visually stimulating.
“SFI believes that a visual culture is taking over in the twenty-first century, where people must be stimulated visually if the message is to be transmitted successfully,” said Rhonda. “The aesthetic appeal of books published under the SFI label is therefore key in their creation. Design becomes as critical to conveying the message as the medium itself. Under the SFI label, each book remains a work of art while being a conduit for sharing valuable information and insight, using fiction and non-fiction alike.
“At the moment we aim at publishing no more than four works annually, including in-hut publications. We are niche-market focused and quality driven. The process and structure of the SFI publishing hut is cooperative in nature and we work closely with our authors. When necessary we are involved from the development of the concept through to the book design, layout and printing.”
SFI titles are available online at www.thesfibook.com and will soon be available at select booksellers worldwide.
Meanwhile, Strategy Forum Inc has also launched First Reads, a new, monthly journal that features mainly creative works, including short fiction and poetry.
“Based on two years of market research, we have concluded that there is a thirst for Caribbean creative works since the Caribbean voice is still under-represented in literary journals worldwide. First Reads is a response to fill that void as it provides a space for well-written, well-researched topical issues,” says Rhonda who is also First Reads editor.
“First Reads is based on the Village Ethic. Here, people work collaboratively and bring to the platform that which they can — creative expression, financial resources, a commitment to spread the word. The Village Ethic presents a new paradigm, a viable alternative to the current corporate model. Villagers are free to participate in one or any combination of participant levels as contributors, benefactors, and/or readers,” said Rhonda.
The inaugural issue of First Reads was released on March 31, 2010 with the publication of The Obeah Man, a short story by Godfrey Bobby Fraser, widely acclaimed Vincentian playwright, whose radio serials were popular throughout the Eastern Caribbean in the 80s and 90s. The Obeah Man, written in the 60s, has never been published before. Beginning in May, Storytelling Forum Inclusive, through First Reads will introduce as a serial for the first time on the Internet, the audio files of the 12 episodes of Leroy.
First Reads welcomes submissions from Caribbean and non-Caribbean writers and poets. It is e-mailed on the last Tuesday of every month except July, August and December.